Juvenile In Justice takes on Capitol Hill [PHOTOS]

September 9, 2014

In DC, Juvenile In Justice exhibit highlights plight of system-involved youth

This week, advocates celebrate the 40th anniversary of the landmark Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act , the nation’s main law governing state juvenile justice programs. As part of the anniversary, a special exhibit of photographs showcasing the conditions of confinement in America’s juvenile detention facilities is on display in the U.S. Capitol.

Through Sept. 12, visitors to the Senate Rotunda will get an up-close look at the conditions of confinement facing the more than 61,000 children who live in America’s juvenile detention facilities and residential institutions in the United States.

The photographs are the work of Richard Ross, who traveled the country for nearly five years documenting the lives of children who were confined in nearly 200 juvenile detention centers in 31 states. He produced the acclaimed 2012 book, Juvenile In Justice.

The JJDPA has helped many states make great progress in improving their juvenile justice programs so that they are more equitable and effective, and fewer young people are locked up away from families and community supports. But still, there is much work to be done.

"My hope is that these images reveal the critical work we have left to do for our kids in the juvenile justice system—work we have to do before the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act’s key protections can be fully realized. It's a privilege for me to sit on the floor and talk to these youth, but ideally this work wouldn't need to be done," said Ross.

The exhibit is made possible by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is providing the photos.

Can’t make it to DC? Here is a glimpse at some of the powerful images. For more, visit Richard Ross’ website, Juvenile-In-Justice.com.  All images are copyright Richard Ross.

richard ross photography


I always felt I needed [my boyfriend] to be loved and to help out. He’s a junior. My only crime was running away. But I’ve been here more than 9 times. I’ve been here 2 weeks.”                                                        - C.M., age 16 and 8 months pregnant






















More than half of all states continue to incarcerate children for status offenses through the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act’s Valid Court Order exception ( Use of the VCO: State-by-State Comparisons). As a result, in 2011 alone, more than 2,000 children were estimated to be incarcerated each day for behaviors such as running away from home, skipping school, or coming home after curfew (Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement). 

“I got kicked out of school for partying and truancy. I use meth. They have had me here for 2 weeks. I think they keep me here because they think I am a risk of hurting myself. When they want to come in, they come in, they don’t knock or anything – this is the observation room …”      

-  C.T., age 15 

richard ross photography
















The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that 20 percent of children who are detained for status offenses - such as skipping school – and other non-delinquent behaviors, are placed in living units with a young person who committed murder or manslaughter. Research has shown that suicide rates among incarcerated youth are also more than four times higher than they are among youth who are not incarcerated. (See more at ChildTrends.org.)  

richard ross photography

Restraint chair at a detention facility



“I’m waiting for my mom to come get me. Is she in there? She’s at work today. I want to go home. I got in trouble at school today.”

-R.T., age 10

richard ross photography











The director of the facility recalled an 8-year-old being brought in for taking a bagel and stated, “This is not the place for these offenses.”

In 2011-2012, U.S. schools referred 260,000 of their students to law enforcement; 92,000 students were arrested for school-related issues, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Snapshot. These young people were disproportionately Black students and students with disabilities. They are part of what’s known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and include children who, for example, are chronically truant due to bullying at school or get into fights at school as a result of unmet mental health needs.

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This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. jjdpa matters icon

The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA.  To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.